Wednesday, May 9, 2007

C'est la vie

Segoline Royal is not going to be the next President of France. Too bad. Reading the news has been such a Debbie Downer lately. The Segoline ooh la la factor would have brightened things up a quite a bit. At least for men. And I guess for women, too. But our Gallic gal is not destined for center stage. Yet.

So, no added dose of feminine mystique for now.

Not to ignore the worthy women currently occupying worldly seats of power. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, seems like a competent head of state. But unlikely to cause much excitement. And here we have Nancy Pelosi and Hillary. Both competent and unexciting. Nancy dresses like Mother Superior and likes to remind us that she's a grandmother. Hillary has a man's voice and wears pants.

At the risk of being offensive (translation - I'm about to be offensive), what is intriguing about Segoline is her embrace of femininity in such a deliberate and wholehearted way. None of the American "I'm just as qualified as any man, so ignore my gender, while I attempt to appear publicly asexual." That's not a real quote by the way, I just made it up.

But, but, but - this whole femininity thing is, I believe, a tip of a much larger iceberg. One that affects us all. I think it reflects a difference in thinking about life that is as much masculine/feminine as it is French/American.

The real issue in the French election was the man, Sarkozy, who won, and wants the French to be more American. He wants our wine-sodden allies to get up earlier, a la Ben Franklin. Go from a 35 to 40 hour work week. I don't believe he suggested cutting the traditional French 6 weeks of vacation per year, but he generally wants France to work harder. To be more competitive.

I may be the only American businessman who thinks this is a bad idea.

But, our cheesy chums on the continent voted for him, 53 to 47, which sounds kind of close to me, but politicos consider it a pretty big win. So the French have voted to be more like us and work harder.

I love cliche's. Life is short. See? So I say work smarter, not harder. For most people I know, work itself is not a lot of fun, but it's masculine. Some Americans like to try to get rich at work, which can be fun. Success in your career can give you a good feeling. And some jobs give you a feeling that you are doing good in the world, like nursing or teaching. So sure, there's lots of important work to be done.

But that's not the work most of us are doing. Most of us work for a paycheck.

About that paycheck. Let's take a look at our economy. What exactly is it that we are getting for all of our hard work? When I drive down the street I see lots of fast food, gas stations and convenience stores. We are a service economy now. Mike Dukakis (remember him?) warned us about this when he debated George Bush (the other one.) He said that Republican job growth meant that we'd all end up making sandwiches for each other. Prescient.

Walk into a Wal-Mart or Target and look at all of the crap we buy. That's what our economy is. Is that why we work so hard? I really think that the work smarter idea could be worked into our society. But it would have to be a revolution in social thought. A lot of our economy is based on producing, selling, and buying crap. Who needs that? At my house we literally cart several garbage bags of accumulated cheap toys off to either Goodwill or the dump several times a year.

Meanwhile our leaders tell us we cannot afford healthcare for everyone. Or to clean up all of the toxic waste dumps that pollute the groundwater. Or build more schools. Bullshit. We just decided somewhere along the way that those things were not as important as what we do spend our money on.

Let's work smarter on making life better. I think the French may be onto something with this lifestyle gig they've got going. Work should be about life, not the other way around. What if we restructured our economy to really reward things like cleaning the air or water, healing the sick, or teaching our kids. Maybe not give tax breaks to build factories to produce Coca Cola or Lincoln Navigators. We could drink clean water from the tap, like in olden times, instead of Coke. Maybe take the train to work. Whack soda and a car out my household budget and I could really save some dough.

I work hard, by most standards. And I feel guilty when I leave the office at the end of the day. I could work harder or longer to make more money. But frankly, I'd rather be kicking back with a frosty Blue Moon at the Taco Mac, trading witty banter with my wife while Florida pounds Ohio State on the big screen, and my kids mess around in the game room. Kind of an American version of the French cafe'. But I rarely get to.

We have all of the ingredients for all of us to have great lives here. But we add unnecessary stress about money and work. There's more to life than money and there's more to America than the economy. You live your life. You don't work your life.

Those French folks get this. And they're good at it. Good food and conversation. Smoking is allowed. They dress cool and don't seem fat. While eating a lot of rich food. I think a lot of them must walk home.

Life is made up of beautiful moments. I think I'll pick up some wine on my way home.